China too choosy

| March 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

Chinese students are internationally known for achieving high academic results, evidenced by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores.

Now a postdoctoral research associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Massachusetts in the US, Xu Zhao, has found that 150 000 Chinese citizens emigrated to other countries last year, because the Chinese education system is too demanding.

Every June, approximately 10 million matric Chinese students write the gruelling two-day summative examination known as the Gaokao. There are only six-and-a-half million places open in universities and fewer than one million of those are considered ‘first class’.

Stories are commonplace of Chinese families so desperate to better their children’s futures that they spend their entire incomes on private tutors and extra lessons. It is well known that Chinese students are among the most pressured students in the world, facing endless hours of rote learning.

From the mid-1980s, Zhao says, China’s government devolved a series of education policies to local government and schools themselves. The common theme was ‘competition consciousness’ and linked education to economic reform, encouraging the emergence of private schools. In order to stay alive, schools were forced to generate more income via ‘extra’ classes and high fees.

Today, competition between schools to outrank each other and win resources has reached unbearable levels, says Zhao, with extraordinarily long school days, vast amounts of homework, endless exam simulations and punitive ranking of students, teachers, school administrators, local education officials, districts and cities. China’s development into a state-directed market system has eliminated social benefits like free housing and healthcare, so young Chinese people must secure a degree from a prestigious university to maintain a high-income job and comfortable lifestyle.

The most frightening aspect of this reality, says Zhao, is that students must cope with toxic levels of stress in a society growing increasingly unequal.

Category: Autumn 2014

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